“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain….” Exodus 20:7 (ESV)
Recently, as a part of my research on the Name, I came across a podcast that really piqued my interest. The premise asserts that perhaps we have mistranslated the above quoted commandment. Or, at the very least, we have overlooked a nuance that provides us with a deeper, clearer picture of God’s expectations for us.
The podcast references Carmen Joy Imes’ book Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, which I have not yet read, but have on order. It is my understanding that this book was derived from Imes’ PhD research which focused entirely on Exodus 20:7. This post will rely heavily on the discussion from the podcast listed and linked above. Imes believes that a word has been poorly translated in the second commandment. The issue lies in the word translated “take.”
When we think of this commandment—“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain”—we usually think it is referring to swearing. But Imes postulates that the word “take” would have been better translated as bear, as in carry (like one would carry the standard or banner of a king). The Hebrew language is complex and contextually driven, so, which makes more sense in the context of the law?
“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” Exodus 28:36-38 (ESV)
The above scripture describes a part of the High Priestly garments. A plate of gold engraved “Holy to the LORD?” Fastened and worn on the front of a turban worn by Aaron, the first High Priest. In wearing it, he carried—or bore—the Name of the LORD. He raised the standard of the LORD before all of Israel. As High Priest, Aaron had a responsibility to represent the LORD in a worthy manner. To fail to do so would be to “bear the Name of the LORD in vain.” So, the translation of bear in the commandment makes sense for the High Priest, but what about the people of Israel?
A few chapters earlier, God told the Israelites, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” ‘These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.’” Exodus 19:5-6 (ESV). And just as the anointed priest bore the Name of the LORD, understanding that they had an obligation to represent God in a manner worthy of His Name, the people of Israel were also called to be a “kingdom of priests”! Aaron and his sons represented God before the congregation. The congregation, in turn, was to represent God before the nations.
To me it is clear that, beyond the concept of not using God’s Name as a curse word, we are especially called to lift up the standard of God, to represent Him in a worthy manner. I hope that this gives you something to think about.
As always, these are the musings of a mindful disciple. Blessings on your week!
Image by Daniel Gutko on Unsplash